Conceding that it won't be easy, Democrats who control the Nevada Assembly and Senate vowed Tuesday to push through meaningful, long-term tax reform this session.
"There isn't going to be a simple solution to all of this," said Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, who joined with Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick to say that everything is on the table, including the state's consolidated tax on items such as liquor, cigarettes and some government services, the teachers' margin tax initiative and an expansion of sales taxes to services.
But Denis, D-Las Vegas, and Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, were vague on the details of what the final proposal will look like , saying that will have to be developed in upcoming hearings.
Denis said the goal is "a real plan" that will work over the long term and not just for the two years between now and the 2015 legislative session, adding, "It doesn't do us any good to come up with a plan that doesn't work."
Both pointed out repeatedly that they are beginning serious discussions early in the current session rather than at the end as happened in the 2011 session. They said the idea is to thoroughly vet all ideas about what to do and then produce a comprehensive restructuring of the tax system.
A key goal, they said, is to stop playing political games with taxes that "sunset" unless renewed each session. They said just extending those tax hikes another two years leaves Nevada companies uncertain about the future, without the stability they need to make good business decisions.
The legislative leaders said the teachers union margins tax initiative will have to be studied before lawmakers decide whether to back it or not. The statutory initiative won enough voter signatures to be presented to the 2013 Legislature, which must act on it within 40 days or the proposed business tax will go on the 2014 General Election ballot for voters to decide.
Kirkpatrick said she believes all members of the Legislature are dedicated to fixing the state's tax system this session. She added that the changes will have to generate revenue if lawmakers are going to pay for some of the projects and programs they want to approve this session, including public school class-size reduction and all-day kindergarten.
Asked how they will get past Gov. Brian Sandoval's likely opposition to any changes that aren't revenue-neutral, Kirkpatrick said legislative leaders are developing strategies including the possibility of a two-thirds' vote to override a veto by the Republican governor.
"I really think the governor will come along but, if not, we're prepared for that," she said.
Sandoval has said several times he can't comment on the legislative plan until he sees exactly what's in it.
Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, said Nevada needs to broaden its tax structure but one thing he can't support is the teachers union margins tax - which he terms a corporate income tax.
"From my perspective, I can tell you you're not going to get a single Republican vote for the margins tax," he said, adding that he doubts voters would approve the initiative if it went to a public vote in 2014.
Roberson said, however, that expanding the sales tax to include services is one idea on the table.
Bob Fulkerson of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada said after the lawmakers' press conference that he believes the Democratic leadership is headed in the right direction. He said a revenue-neutral plan isn't the answer.
"There needs to be new revenue because you can't pay for things like class-size reduction without it," he said.